There are three soft skills that business leaders need in a post-COVID world.
Companies all around the world have been changing and pivoting with unprecedented speed over the past 12 months as they adapt to new ways of working in a bid to propel their businesses forward – and keep their staff happy. Simon Rountree, founder of Change Ready, is an expert in change leadership.
He says most Australian businesses are currently looking at cost-cutting, which means reducing budgets, reducing staff, and generally doing more with less. That means emotional intelligence is more important than ever amongst leadership teams. At the top of his list are connection, mindfulness, and resilience.
“There are a lot of tools that keep us connected – management software, video conferencing, chat windows. The reality is it’s not actually making us more productive in many cases, it’s making us distracted because we keep getting pinged all the time,” he says. “Emotional intelligence will help people better understand themselves, but also to be able to recognise when their teammates are slowing down or struggling. That’s the key to staying engaged, productive and connected as we move forward.”
Rountree points out that leaders are responsible not just for the design and structure of an organisation, but the systems that support the organisation’s stakeholders. A big trend that emerged from 2020 was the focus on mindfulness, in terms of helping employees allow themselves the space they needed to cope with the impact of world events. This is likely to stay, because leaders now recognise its importance in creating systems that enable workers to work productively even in the face of challenges.
Not everyone wants to – or can – work at home, of course. However, a Roy Morgan survey conducted in July 2020 found that 32 per cent of Australians were working from home. Of those, research from the University of Melbourne found that almost 70 per cent of people in this category wished to continue doing so. It was most common among people aged 25-34. Interestingly, while men are likely to continue doing their current job, women are actively upskilling to look for new work once the dust settles.
Rountree agrees it’s likely that the hybrid model will continue into the future, which sees those who have computer-based jobs splitting their time between home and the office. This level of flexibility has been something many employees have wanted for years – he says Generations Y and Z have been the main instigators – and that the advantages mean this trend is likely to stay in a post-COVID world.
Many bosses have seen strong levels of efficiency and productivity, which means workers can enjoy a much better work/life balance by saving huge amounts of time commuting into city CBDs. It also gives workers much more autonomy over the when, how, and where of their lives away from the keyboard.
For the hybrid model to work, employers will undoubtedly have to work hard to entice staff members back. COVID-19 cast an unflattering spotlight on the bad workplace hygiene of the past. Stained carpets, dusty desks, leftover rings from coffee cups, overflowing bins, and questionably washed kitchen cutlery were a standard feature in the spaces where most of us spent at least a third of all our weekdays.
No more. Cleaning is going to be a much more significant part of office life as employers try to coax wary workers back to the cities. A white paper from cleaning company GJK Facility Services says cleaning must be more frequent and visible than ever, with a priority on frequent touchpoints. A workplace free from bacteria and viruses, is now just as important as the promise of returning to our favourite coffee spots.
Physical changes will potentially also see the eagerly anticipated death of hot desking. Gihan Perera is a Perth-based futurist who says that employees will no longer put up with the awkward daily desk shuffle.
“People won’t want to share spaces, they’ll want to spread out into more private areas where they can feel safe,” he says. “That will also mean a much greater focus on health and hygiene in offices, as well as innovations like automatic doors. Places like office buildings will have to become smarter.”
Some of the innovations he’s seen include automatic lift buttons, which can be operated by waving a hand in front of a sensor to avoid contact, that have been tried in India. There are also smart buildings that enable users to save their preferred settings for things like lights and temperatures so they activate automatically when they’re at their desk or booking shared spaces like meeting rooms.
“It might encourage more developers to be early adopters of emerging technologies,” he says. “If you’re building from scratch, it makes sense to incorporate these kinds of ideas from the beginning.”
This article was brought to you by GJK Facility Services
Originally published as New ways of working that will propel Australian businesses forward